nimals like to roam around freely, without being constrained by others. Similarly, small children also enjoy freedom and resist control and regimentation by others.
In modern societies, we do not leave even animals alone; we tame some of them to serve our own purposes.
As for children, we subject them to socialisation, both primary and secondary, in order to get them to fit into society and culture around them while facilitating their physical and intellectual development. Some children resist socialisation and become juvenile delinquents, and even criminals in their adult lives. Children and youth soon realise that they need to accept diverse constraints that restrict their behaviour and fit into the institutions that regulate social, economic, political and cultural life, no matter how frustrating such experience can be for some people.
The established ways of doing things in modern democratic societies are justified on the ground that they serve the larger public interest; peaceful co-existence, satisfaction of human needs, social justice, social and economic development and the protection of the vulnerable.
So, much talked about good governance and rule of law are not abstract concepts but represent a set of actual practices that facilitate the management of public affairs to the satisfaction of the vast majority of citizens.
But, then, there are always people who are indifferent towards such widely accepted ways of doing things. It is this reality that became clearly evident in the run up to the last presidential election.
The change of regime on the 9th of January opened up a real possibility for a transition not only in Sri Lankan politics but also in the way our society was organised to deal with diverse economic, social and cultural issues in the country. Nevertheless, a sizable segment of the adult population in the country, for various reasons, did not vote for such a change.
This political division is the result of conflicting ideas and competing interests prevailing in society. These ideas and interests have been promoted over a long period of time, but more particularly over the last ten years. On the one hand, the idea that the Sri Lankan state has been faced with a threat from within and without has been turned into a dominant ideology pervading a large part of the majority community. On the other, the micro-management of the entire state apparatus to promote conformity and political loyalty among large sections of the population in return for various forms of material benefits made a mockery of the democratic system of government and rule of law.
Given this state of affairs that prevailed in the country before the presidential election, many people felt that it would be virtually impossible to defeat the MR regime through the normal electoral process. In fact, if not for the unprecedented unity among the then opposition forces, we would still be living under the MR regime.
As is well known, the social and political forces that campaigned for the overthrow of the previous regime have been diverse and harboured diverse ideas and interests, in spite of the fact that they could agree on a set of broad objectives for a new regime. What we have in the country today is a government representing such a broad coalition.
So, it is natural for the diverse constituent element of the government not to agree on everything or act in concert when dealing with different issues. So, what we witness in the country is an uneasy alliance of coalition partners rather than a solid political bloc with a unified agenda. While they could agree on broad parameters of governance, differences are bound to emerge on specific policy and programmatic issues. This situation is likely to change after the scheduled parliamentary elections after April when parties could test their popularity and secure blocs of seats in parliament. However, what is important at the present time is to stay on course without losing sight of the fact that a political breakthrough has been achieved.
The primary responsibility of the democratic forces and all right thinking citizens is to build on what has been achieved and ensure that a firmer foundation is laid for a truly democratic, transparent and accountable government after the parliamentary elections.
What we observe today in the country might not be exactly what many people who campaigned for political change desired. This is because the new rulers are not aliens and have been part of Sri Lankan politics for many years. So are some of those who supported these rulers to come to power.
There are signs of old and familiar practices being followed by some of them. This is often the result of human frailties that can be only stamped out by clear rules and regulations. It is the role of the government as a whole to introduce legislation that can reduce discretionary powers to a minimum.
In fact, if we look at some of the appointments to some of the institutions already made, it is possible to argue that they are attempts to re-politicise the same institutions. But, the point is that there are no rules today to prevent political appointments.
In the absence of such rules, those who are in power tend to be pragmatic and give into pressures they come under, namely, vested interests, informal social and political networks, pressure groups, etc. While some people would be ready to accept such behaviour, provided that the new government is broadly committed to the principles of good governance, rule of law, peace and social justice, more liberally minded and socially conscious political activists are no doubt unhappy that such practices take place under the new regime.
Yet, what we need to bear in mind is that a sizable segment of the population does not share liberal or socialist values. This is partly evident from the results of the last elections. While there cannot be any argument about the fact that the last regime did not care very much about good governance, rule of law, social justice, etc., that did not prevent a majority of people in predominantly Sinhala Buddhist areas from voting for the former President.
While such voting behaviour was partly the result of gross violation of the election law, total abuse of state media and other public resources, the fact that a large section of the voters did not care about the state of governance in the country at the time is highly significant. What is equally significant is that most of the ruling party activists at all levels also did not care about the serious public concerns regarding the above.
There can be only two credible reasons for anybody to support a corrupt and broadly undemocratic regime. The first is the lack of much regard for good governance and rule of law. The second is the naked self- interest.
The two of course can be quite complementary. For, if one is keen to promote wider public interest as against one’s own personal interest, one might want to support a democratic and transparent government.
"So, much talked about good governance and rule of law are not abstract concepts but represent a set of actual practices that facilitate the management of public affairs to the satisfaction of the vast majority of citizens"
So, it is not sharp policy differences that have underlined political competition over the last several decades. While almost all governments after 1977 have pursued a broadly market-led development policy, a lower level of social spending has also been maintained by them despite publicly stated policy differences.
This could be seen from the budgetary allocations of successive governments. When clear policy differences are not the basis upon, which public support is canvassed, ruling parties tend to use other tactics to consolidate their public image.
These include use of political patronage to build up networks of political loyalists and mobilise party supporters, politicisation of important State institutions, reliance on political propaganda and suppression of alternative views.
This is what we witnessed over the last ten years.While such practices are certainly not in keeping with the principles of good governance, it was not just semi-literate, ignorant citizens exposed to government propaganda who sided with the previous regime but a wider cross section of people with a clear understanding of the state of governance in the country.
It is only strong constitutional, legal and institutional safeguards that can protect Sri Lanka’s democracy from such forces. For the people concerned are not children who are yet to be socialised!